Sunday Status Update: September 27, 2015

Character update is on break this week.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Bill: With the onslaught of my first group of first-years’ papers, not a lot of reading this past week (or probably next). I did manage to zip through Brandon Sanderson’s new MISTBORN novel, Shadows of Self. I also read Laura Clarke’s collection of poems Decline of the Animal Kingdom. And I’m working through Steven Erikson’s novella The Healthy Dead for’s reread.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: This week I finished Erin Bow‘s The Scorpion Rules (which was really good, and not at all what I was expecting from its dystopian YA trappings) and started Ilana C. Myer’s upcoming debut fantasy novel, Last Song Before Night. It’s full of music and poetic imagery, and it’s lovely so far. I hope that I’ll ultimately be able to recommend it to my fellow FanLit music lovers! Yes, I said I wouldn’t start anything new, but, well, you know… Plans, mice, men, etc. *shrug*

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews João: Read a fantastic debut by Stephen Aryan, Battlemage. A review will follow shortly, but I loved the book immensely. It’s not the best novel qua novel I’ve read this year, it doesn’t try to do anything new, doesn’t explore some insighful idea, or such things usually associated with the great novels. But boy is it a fun read. Might not be the best one I’ve read but it was certainly the most enjoyable. Now I’m reading Quarantine  by Greg Egan and it’s just crazy.It’s a good and I am intrigued to see where it is going, but it’s the type of crazyness that only super hard science fiction can achieve.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: This week I finished Jim Butcher’s new book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass. This didn’t do much for me, but I felt the same way about his first few DRESDEN FILES books, too, so I’m hoping that I’ll like this new CINDER SPIRESseries better once it gets going. For our new Short Fiction Monday feature, I listened to an audio version of Kevin Hearne’s “Clan Rathskeller,” a fun story that takes place before the first IRON DRUID CHRONICLES novel. I read Undead and Uneasy, book six in MaryJanice Davidson’s QUEEN BETSY series. It seems like these books are determined to stay shallow, so I think I’m done with them. The best things I read this week were two audiobooks recently released by Skyboat Media and Blackstone Audio. Stefan Rudnicki (one of my favorites) performs Robert Silverberg’s Thorns and Star of Gypsies. Both of these are good novels given an excellent treatment by the audio producers.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kate: This past week I finished listening to Karen Lord‘s Redemption in Indigo, which was phenomenal–will probably go in a Favorites list of some sort. It was a retelling of the Senegalese folktale of Ansige the glutton, with a LOT of other material thrown in. But “thrown in” doesn’t do it justice. You’ll have to wait for the review. I’m also about a third of the way into Mister Shivers, by Robert Jackson Bennett, on the recommendation and loan of Marion. It’s good so far, but y’all know how I am–I’m a bit anxious for when the real horror starts to kick in. Finally, I just started listening to Crooked by Austin Grossman (Lev Grossman‘s twin brother, you guys!). I can’t even express how excited and impressed I am by the first couple of chapters of this book, which has Nixon as a first-person narrator telling us about his rise to power, his fight against Communism, and the Watergate scandal, with some Lovecraftian twists thrown in. I am practically shivering with anticip….ation.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I didn’t get a lot of reading done, because it’s been a busy week. I had to get out some press releases about a local event, set up a meeting for cooking demonstrations at our local farmers market, get ready for a longish visit from a friend and… I’m sorry. What was I saying? Reading, oh, yes. I’m two-thirds of the way through Raising Caine, the third book in Charles E Gannon’s CHRONICLES OF THE TERRAN REPUBLIC series. I liked the first two; I think this is best yet. Danger comes at you from all directions, and there are extra-terrestrials, new planets, and new revelations about people we thought we knew. Whew! Since I finished Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum I thought I’d take a look at the source material, so I’ve been wending my way through the Robert W. Chambers short story collection, The King in Yellow. And a friend gave me a book called Mr. Monster, saying, “This looks like your kind of thing,” and I stared Dan Wells’s book before I remembered that it was Book Two. So, being me, I read it anyway and it really made me want to grab I Am Not a Serial Killer. In this case I will say, learn from my error; there is a plot point in Mr. Monster that will definitely change the reading experience of Book One, so don’t do what I did.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Rachael: I’ve started Ernest Cline‘s Armada this week and am pretty unconvinced so far. Is it unfair to say it’s just a worse version of Ready Player One? On the more literary side, I am also reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Sandy: Moi? I am still plodding my way through Jessie Douglas Kerruish’s The Undying Monster (1922), after almost two weeks. I am having a bit of trouble getting through this one, not because the book is uninteresting – it is actually pretty fascinating stuff – but because it is the type of book that requires much of the reader in the way of research, in terms of language, British slang, place names, historical tidbits and on and on. The edition that I am reading from Flame Tree 451 (a British publisher) is also highly problematic: very small print and with an incredible number of typos. Anyway, I DO still hope to be finished with this novel shortly, and to get a review out for y’all soon…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Stuart:  I finally finished my Robert Silverberg journey with Tower of Glass (1970). This book covered so many classic SF themes, like identity, sexuality, telepathy, alien contact, religion and artificial intelligence. However, at only 194 pages, I felt like none of them were explored adequately. My next target is J.G. Ballard, an author with a complicated relationship with SF. He wrote many New-Wave SF novels and short stories in the 1960s/70s, but doesn’t like to be associated with the genre. Some mainstream critics who prefer ‘literature’ turn their noses up at SFF, so I think genre readers have mixed opinions about his books. They are cerebral, detached, and explore inner space with SF tropes. That doesn’t sound very appealing to readers looking for entertainment, but SF critic David Pringle is a huge fan and he is considered a very important part of the New Wave SF movement, so I feel obligated to give his books a try. This week I listened to The Drowned World (1962) and The Crystal World (1966). Honestly, my first impression was pretty lukewarm – the characters are (deliberately?) detached and unappealing, and while his imagery of quiet and inevitable decay and entropy is vivid and hallucinatory (giving rise to the term ‘Ballardian’), it makes for some unexciting reading. Since they are so short (4-5 hours each), I actually might listen to them again to make sure I didn’t miss something!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tadiana: I’m currently reading The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks, which was just published in August 2015. It’s a time travel fantasy with a little magic, and maybe a bit too complex for the type of book it is, but still quite enjoyable. I also finished The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof by Annie Schmidt, a well-regarded Danish author, which was a truly delightful fantasy about a cat who has turned into a young woman. It’s written on a middle grade level, but definitely enjoyable by adults – especially if you’re a cat lover. I’ll review it closer to its January 2016 publication date. In the shorter SFF works category, this week I read “In the Vault” by H.P. Lovecraft, a creepy story about an undertaker who gets stuck in a vault with seven or eight dead bodies in flimsy coffins that he made, and the “Curran POV Collection’ by Ilona Andrews, available free online at the Andrews’ website, which retells several scenes from the KATE DANIELS series from Curran’s point of view. This is a must for Kate Daniels fans, but there are massive spoilers in it, so you need to have read the first four books in that series. John Steinbeck East of Eden update: 75% done. I’ll finish it this week, I promise!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I’ve been reading a lot of really great stuff this week — something that being on a business trip often does for me, because I spend my evenings alone in a hotel room with nothing but my trusty Kindle. It’s wonderful! (Only other book nerds will get this, but that includes all of you, right?) I started A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall, which promises to be excellent. I read Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell, which is one of the novella series being published by, and started Socerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson, another in that series. As a pure guilty pleasure, I’m also reading Night Shift, a book of novellas by Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearin and Milla Vane. I’m also still reading — and still enjoying — The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, a challenging, rich story. Finally, I’ve become enamored of a program called Readability, which lets me copy articles I find around and about the ‘Net to my Kindle and read them at my leisure. The thing is, my “leisure” rarely seems to come — but it did this week, so I caught up on a bunch of articles about the new television season, fall books, politics, and a number of other categories that fascinate me. I live for reading weeks like this one.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: This week I got to read a number of newer fantasy novels, and Amazon got to lap up a lot more sweet, sweet Kindle revenue. First I read Brian Stavely‘s The Emperor’s Blades, which I thought was fun but had a few kinks to work out. I followed it up with Providence of Fire by the same author, which was an improvement. I then read Katherine Addison‘s The Goblin Emperor, which was fantastic; and began Holly Black‘s The Darkest Part of the Forest. I’m about halfway through that now, and I have Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon lined up for when I’m done. I tried reading one of the books from Anthony Ryan‘s RAVEN’S SHADOW series somewhere in there, but it hit several of my editing and prose construction pet peeves pretty hard (and repeatedly) so I dropped it.

Brad: This week, in addition to reading some more Elric stories, I finished the first two ETERNAL CHAMPION books by Michael MoorcockThe Eternal Champion and Phoenix in Obsidian. I re-read SuperMutant Magic Academy and wrote a review that was posted yesterday. I also re-read volume one of the comic Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray, which I hope to review soon. If you like the art used in those classic pulp fiction adventures — both for the covers and as illustrations — then Five Ghosts is for you. The entire comic feels like it’s told in an older style, but with higher quality. I can see Sandy Ferber getting real joy out of this one. I’ve also been reading more Grendel comics by Matt Wagner. These are amazing stories, and they have nothing to do with Beowulf at all. I wish he’d picked another name so I wouldn’t have to make this clarification every time I mention the comic. I’ve continued to listen to The Martian Chronicles on audio (see also Book Chat and Stuart’s Review). Finally, since I recently enjoyed reading Tam Lin so much, I’ve been re-reading Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, one of my all-time favorite books, a modern novel (1948) that is a first-person coming-of-age story about two young sisters. They live with their father, a famous modern novelist, who now has writer’s block. They live rent-free in a crumbling castle, so there are gothic elements. The novel intentionally builds off of Austen, and fans of Austen will like this novel, as will fans of Tam Lin.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Rachael, the silence after Armada dropped was conspicuous, and it’s not getting terribly good reviews.

  2. Marion, don’t forget that there’s now a fourth book in the John Wayne Cleaver series! I love those books. When I interviewed Dan Wells, he told me that he had no intention of writing YA fiction — that’s just how his publisher chose to market it. I don’t find it particularly YAish — the themes are very adult. Great stuff!

    • It feels like there’s a knee-jerk response; “teen age protagonist? YA!” Dan Wells’s work is not YA at all!

      I hope there are many more books, because John Wayne Cleaver has quite the to-do list after Mr. Monster.

  3. Stuart, I just read your status update, and then I went and read then first 10% of Tower of Glass. Very interesting so far. I’ve been meaning to read this book (and I have it both on my kindle and on audio, so I might end up listening to it, too). Reading another book about man’s desire to erect a building as high as possible to get people to notice him seems to be a relevant topic for us at Fantasy as we discuss in the comments this week Rand’s Fountainhead, Ballard’s High-Rise, and the dystopian cityscapes of Piercy’s He, She, and It.

    Plus, I just love anything Silverberg does, pretty much. I need to listen to the books Kat mentions, too.

    I want to teach some of his short stories soon, and eventually, I hope to pick a novel of his to teach. We’ll see.


  4. Kate: Maybe the rain isn’t….really to blame?

    Stuart: My favorite of Ballard’s published work is Empire of the Sun, and I had to read a LOT of his books, particularly the sci-fi, in college. I think he was at his best when he was slightly fictionalizing his life.

    • I second Empire of the Sun, though it’s been a while (a long, long while). My memory is also that I loved the movie version

      • The movie is just wonderful.

        • I forgot about Empire . . . I read that ages ago. I DO remember liking it, but can’t remember anything about it at all. I’ll go back and check it and the movie out. I think I read Empire and High-Rise, and I was very excited about Ballard, and then I read Crash and that ended that love affair. Jana, what are his best books to read if I like Empire but not Crash?

  5. Brad, glad to see you picked up Tower of Glass – that book had so many things going on, and the central metaphor is exactly what we’ve been talking about this week. What is it with guys and tall skinny buildings being erected into the sky. Is there any way to tie-in the bizarre tower/tunnel that features so prominently in Vandermeer’s Annihilation? Is that a yin/yang symbol perhaps?

    That Ballard guy is such a strange one. I’ve heard his short stories are actually better than his novels. Vermillion Sands is definitely considered his best, and I absolutely love the cover art for the 1988 Arkham House edition of Memories of the Space Age that you mentioned, Jana.

    I decided to opt for his “Best of” collection of 19 stories on Kindle (the “Complete” version is 65 stories, which is just TOO MUCH of a good thing). And I would imagine Empire of the Sun is his least representative book, though also his most popular and accessible.

    I plan to listen to The Drowned World, The Crystal World, High-Rise, and Concrete Island on audiobook. If I’m super-keen I would add The Unlimited Dream Company and The Day of Creation since David Pringle picked them for his 100 Best Fantasy Novels.

    His books Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition are really for die-hard masochists only, and I think even David Cronenberg fans had trouble stomaching the Crash film (the later Paul Haggis film Crash is way better, if totally unrelated). Not really sure why you would write stuff like that, but like I said, he was an odd cat.

    As for Ernie Cline’s Armada, I tried really hard to like it, but it was a big disappointment after Ready Player One. When I did the interview I carefully addressed most of the questions to the upcoming RPO film version rather than Armada. Kinda worried he’s a one-trick pony, but hoping for something non-80s gamer nostaligia next.

    Brad, you keep tempting me with all these cool comic book reviews. Now I have an angel and demon on each shoulder, like National Lampoon’s Animal House, egging me on to either read books or comics. The same goes for all the enticing books we’re reading here. I do want to read fantasy books, really, but I can’t even get through my classic SF backlog. It’s exquisite torture, every week. More time, more time (not having to work would be a nice start)!!!

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